Brighton’s Green Nightmare

Posted in Brighton, Politics with tags , , on March 5, 2015 by telescoper

Two years ago I posted an item about the effects of industrial action by Brighton & Hove’s refuse collectors, the ironically-named company Cityclean. Strikes and other industrial action have happened intermittently over the last year, but it has been difficult to establish when Cityclean are working and when they are not because the typical level of service is absolutely abysmal. Apparently the latest strike is supposed to have finished, but some drivers are still “working to rule”.


The fact of the matter is that this state of affairs is the rule in Kemptown, the part of Brighton I live in. The refuse collection service is shockingly unreliable and more often than not the street resembles a rubbish tip, whether or not there’s a strike.

It’s quite obvious who is to blame for all this. Cityclean is managed, badly, by the local Council which is controlled by a shambolic Green Party more interested in splurging money on vanity projects like the infamous i360, and trying to wreck the budget-setting process, than providing decent services for local people. Given the importance the Green Party pretends to attach to recycling and sustainability, it is appalling that the fraction of refuse that is recycled is just 24%, one of the lowest rates in the entire country. The local Greens think the council should take over running bus services too. If they do as good a job of that as they do with the refuse collection service then I’ll probably be walking to work most days of the week.

I keep hearing from people living elsewhere who a flirting with the idea of voting for the Greens in the General Election and Local Elections forthcoming in May. I very much doubt that there will be any “Green Surge” in Brighton, unless it comes in the form of a noxious ooze emanating from mountains of uncollected garbage. I am pretty sure the Green will get wiped off the face of the Council in Brighton and Hove. If you’re actually thinking of voting for them elsewhere, take a look at the mess they’ve made here and I’m sure you will change your mind.

Britain’s only Green MP (Caroline Lucas) is looking to retain her seat in Brighton Pavilion at the General Election. To attempt to achieve this she has initiated a frantic campaign to distance herself from the antics of the Green Party’s representatives on the local council. I find that attitude completely hypocritical and I hope she fails. If she really doesn’t agree with her party she should stand as an independent.

The Law of Averages

Posted in Bad Statistics, Crosswords with tags , , on March 4, 2015 by telescoper

Just a couple of weeks ago I found myself bemoaning my bad luck in the following terms

A few months have passed since I last won a dictionary as a prize in the Independent Crossword competition. That’s nothing remarkable in itself, but since my average rate of dictionary accumulation has been about one a month over the last few years, it seems a bit of a lull.  Have I forgotten how to do crosswords and keep sending in wrong solutions? Is the Royal Mail intercepting my post? Has the number of correct entries per week suddenly increased, reducing my odds of winning? Have the competition organizers turned against me?

In fact, statistically speaking, there’s nothing significant in this gap. Even if my grids are all correct, the number of correct grids has remained constant, and the winner is pulled at random  from those submitted (i.e. in such a way that all correct entries are equally likely to be drawn) , then a relatively long unsuccessful period such as I am experiencing at the moment is not at all improbable. The point is that such runs are far more likely in a truly random process than most people imagine, as indeed are runs of successes. Chance coincidence happen more often than you think.

Well, as I suspected would happen soon my run of ill fortune came to an end today with the arrival of this splendid item in the mail:


It’s the prize for winning Beelzebub 1303, the rather devilish prize cryptic in the Independent on Sunday Magazine. It’s nice to get back to winning ways. Now what’s the betting I’ll now get a run of successes?

P.S. I used the title “Law of Averages” just so I could point out in a footnote that there’s actually no such thing.

Sonny Rollins’ letter to Coleman Hawkins

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on March 4, 2015 by telescoper


I couldn’t resist reblogging this wonderful letter from one great saxophonist, Sonny Rollins, to another, Coleman Hawkins.

The letter was written in 1962. You can find here on Youtube a recording of the two of them playing the great Jerome Kern tune All The Things You Are at the Newport Jazz Festival just a few months later in summer 1963. The title seems to match the sentiments of the letter rather nicely!

Originally posted on Simon Purcell Online:

Do read this, a touching letter from Sonny Rollins to Coleman Hawkins in 1962 (from the website The greatest players possess not only self-discipline and powers of concentration, but generally, great humility.

View original

Fifty Shades of Whiteboard

Posted in Biographical, Film with tags , on March 3, 2015 by telescoper


Uncertainty, Risk and Probability

Posted in Bad Statistics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2015 by telescoper

Last week I attended a very interesting event on the Sussex University campus, the Annual Marie Jahoda Lecture which was given this year by Prof. Helga Nowotny a distinguished social scientist. The title of the talk was A social scientist in the land of scientific promise and the abstract was as follows:

Promises are a means of bringing the future into the present. Nowhere is this insight by Hannah Arendt more applicable than in science. Research is a long and inherently uncertain process. The question is open which of the multiple possible, probable or preferred futures will be actualized. Yet, scientific promises, vague as they may be, constitute a crucial link in the relationship between science and society. They form the core of the metaphorical ‘contract’ in which support for science is stipulated in exchange for the benefits that science will bring to the well-being and wealth of society. At present, the trend is to formalize scientific promises through impact assessment and measurement. Against this background, I will present three case studies from the life sciences: assisted reproductive technologies, stem cell research and the pending promise of personalized medicine. I will explore the uncertainty of promises as well as the cunning of uncertainty at work.

It was a fascinating and wide-ranging lecture that touched on many themes. I won’t try to comment on all of them, but just pick up on a couple that struck me from my own perspective as a physicist. One was the increasing aversion to risk demonstrated by research funding agencies, such as the European Research Council which she helped set up but described in the lecture as “a clash between a culture of trust and a culture of control”. This will ring true to any scientist applying for grants even in “blue skies” disciplines such as astronomy: we tend to trust our peers, who have some control over funding decisions, but the machinery of control from above gets stronger every day. Milestones and deliverables are everything. Sometimes I think in order to get funding you have to be so confident of the outcomes of your research to that you have to have already done it, in which case funding isn’t even necessary. The importance of extremely speculative research is rarely recognized, although that is where there is the greatest potential for truly revolutionary breakthroughs.

Another theme that struck me was the role of uncertainty and risk. This grabbed my attention because I’ve actually written a book about uncertainty in the physical sciences. In her lecture, Prof. Nowotny referred to the definition (which was quite new to me) of these two terms by Frank Hyneman Knight in a book on economics called Risk, Uncertainty and Profit. The distinction made there is that “risk” is “randomness” with “knowable probabilities”, whereas “uncertainty” involves “randomness” with “unknowable probabilities”. I don’t like these definitions at all. For one thing they both involve a reference to “randomness”, a word which I don’t know how to define anyway; I’d be much happier to use “unpredictability”. Even more importantly, perhaps, I find the distinction between “knowable” and “unknowable” probabilities very problematic. One always knows something about a probability distribution, even if that something means that the distribution has to be very broad. And in any case these definitions imply that the probabilities concerned are “out there”, rather being statements about a state of knowledge (or lack thereof). Sometimes we know what we know and sometimes we don’t, but there are more than two possibilities. As the great American philosopher and social scientist Donald Rumsfeld (Shurely Shome Mishtake? Ed) put it:

“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

There may be a proper Bayesian formulation of the distinction between “risk” and “uncertainty” that involves a transition between prior-dominated (uncertain) and posterior-dominated (risky), but basically I don’t see any qualititative difference between the two from such a perspective.

Anyway, it was a very interesting lecture that differed from many talks I’ve attended about the sociology of science in that the speaker clearly understood a lot about how science actually works. The Director of the Science Policy Research Unit invited the Heads of the Science Schools (including myself) to dinner with the speaker afterwards, and that led to the generation of many interesting ideas about how we (I mean scientists and social scientists) might work better together in the future, something we really need to do.

Poll of Polls now updated to 27-02-15 – no real change from last week

Posted in Politics on March 2, 2015 by telescoper


Just thought I’d reblog this to show how close it seems the May 2015 General Election will be. The situation with respect to seats is even more complex. It looks like Labour will lose many of their seats in Scotland to the SNP, but the Conservatives will probably only lose a handful to UKIP.

It looks to me that another hung Parliament is on the cards, so coalitions of either Con+Lib+UKIP or Lab+SNP+Lib are distinct possibilities..

Originally posted on More Known Than Proven:

Poll of Polls - 270215I’ve updated my “Poll of Polls” to include 13 more polls that were carried out since I did my last graph. The graphs now include the Greens as I now have data for them too.

Overall this Poll of Polls shows no real change from last week.

If you want to download the spreadsheet that did this analysis go here. If you want to understand the methodology behind the “Poll of Polls” click here and scroll down to the bit that gives the description.

View original

A Poem for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , on March 1, 2015 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today, so

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

As as become traditional on this blog I am going to mark the occasion by posting a poem the great Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas. This is called Welsh Testament.

All right, I was Welsh. Does it matter?
I spoke a tongue that was passed on
To me in the place I happened to be,
A place huddled between grey walls
Of cloud for at least half the year.
My word for heaven was not yours.
The word for hell had a sharp edge
Put on it by the hand of the wind
Honing, honing with a shrill sound
Day and night. Nothing that Glyn Dwr
Knew was armour against the rain’s
Missiles. What was descent from him?

Even God had a Welsh name:
He spoke to him in the old language;
He was to have a peculiar care
For the Welsh people. History showed us
He was too big to be nailed to the wall
Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
Between the boards of a black book.

Yet men sought us despite this.
My high cheek-bones, my length of skull
Drew them as to a rare portrait
By a dead master. I saw them stare
From their long cars, as I passed knee-deep
In ewes and wethers. I saw them stand
By the thorn hedges, watching me string
The far flocks on a shrill whistle.
And always there was their eyes; strong
Pressure on me: You are Welsh, they said;
Speak to us so; keep your fields free
Of the smell of petrol, the loud roar
Of hot tractors; we must have peace
And quietness.

Is a museum
Peace? I asked. Am I the keeper
Of the heart’s relics, blowing the dust
In my own eyes? I am a man;
I never wanted the drab role
Life assigned me, an actor playing
To the past’s audience upon a stage
Of earth and stone; the absurd label
Of birth, of race hanging askew
About my shoulders. I was in prison
Until you came; your voice was a key
Turning in the enormous lock
Of hopelessness. Did the door open
To let me out or yourselves in?


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